JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –
The Air Force plans to boost the production of undergraduate
remotely piloted aircraft pilots in its ranks by 200 RPA pilots per year within
the next two years. Lt. Col. John Stallworth, 558th Flying Training Squadron
commander at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, said the Air Force plan will
increase the number of RPA pilots that will be trained at JBSA-Randolph from
182 last year to 384 in 2017.
The 558th FTS is the sole source of undergraduate RPA
training in the Air Force. The training program is six months for RPA pilots
and six weeks for sensor operators, who control the cameras on the remotely
RPA crews consist of one pilot and one sensor operator.
“The RPA community is experiencing a manpower challenge and
they need more people to help overcome that,” Stallworth said. “We are the
first program in the training pipeline that produces RPA pilots and we will
Student pilots who graduate from the 558th FTS move on to
training in one of the three remotely piloted aircraft used by the Air Force –
the MQ-1 Predator, the MQ-9 Reaper and the RQ-4 Global Hawk. RQ-4 training is
at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., while MQ-1 and MQ-9 training is conducted at
Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.
The number of sensor operators that will be trained will
also increase, according to Air Education and Training Command officials. The
Air Force will determine the number of additional sensor operators who will undergo
undergraduate RPA training at a later date. In 2014, the 558th FTS trained 203
To make room for the additional RPA students, AETC officials
said $4.6 million in simulator upgrades and $600,000 in renovations will be
made to the 558th FTS building. Six new, more robust instrument simulators will
be added, while upgrades will be made to 10 existing simulators to improved
specifications. The RPA student pilots train with these linked, T-6A-like
simulators to learn instrument flying procedures in a dynamic airspace
Renovations include additional simulator rooms and
additional classroom and office space, said AETC officials. The renovations are
scheduled to start in September 2015 and be completed by October 2016.
An AETC undergraduate RPA training official said the
renovations will not interfere with training at the 558th FTS.
To train the additional RPA pilots, Stallworth said the
558th FTS will gain 42 new instructors, going from 70 to 112 within the next 14
to 15 months. Increasing the number of instructors will allow the squadron to
train students in six flight rooms.
An AETC RPA training branch official said the first wave of
additional RPA student pilots will enter training at JBSA-Randolph in January
and graduate in May. Beginning in October 2016, the AETC official said the RPA
pilot training pipeline will be ready for the increased384 student capacity.
Other Air Force plans for the RPA program include pay
bonuses for RPA pilots, investing $100 million for more ground control
stations, simulators and contract instructors and increasing the use of the Air
National Guard, Air Force Reserve and contractors for the RPA mission.